Friday, June 18th, 2021

Megan Thee Stallion – Thot Shit

Snow in summer? Why not!


[Video]
[7.83]

Leah Isobel: “Hands on my knees, shaking ass: on my thot shit” is an archetypal Megan Thee Stallion image, but it’s also one subject to any number of bad-faith readings, so each verse methodically destroys each one. Is she on her thot shit to please men? No: “I’ll be damned if he thinking he’s popping up on this pimping.” Is she on her thot shit because she doesn’t value herself? No: “Looking in the mirror like ‘Damn, I don’t brag enough.'” Is she on her thot shit because it’s all she has to offer? No: “I’m the shit, per the Recording Academy.” Of course, this would all be empty posturing if her flow wasn’t the best it’s been since… 2018, maybe? But it is, so you walk away from the song with one final, inescapable conclusion. Why is Megan on her thot shit? Because it’s fucking fun.
[9]

Alfred Soto: Body positive to the point of saturation, “Thot Shit” mentions thighs and knees, rhymes mirror/posterior, and considers the possibilities of a mouth full of VVs. A terrific performance: Cupcakke rated PG-13. 
[7]

Dede Akolo: Stallion got to the conflation of erotic attraction and repulsion within the patriarchal psyche in less than five minutes. The last shot of the film brings me the same visceral energy as hearing Kennie JD talk about the 2017 Spanish film Skins. Unlike Skins, however, Stallion knows how to make entertaining material. And if some film-bro comes at me about the deeper meaning of Skins and Samantha’s mouth, I will punt you so hard your ass’ll turn into your mouth. 
[8]

Samson Savill de Jong: Megan acting like she’s ever not on her thot shit. Thee equine rapper continues to be a good lyricist with excellent flow, dancing right up to corny bars without ever crossing the line. But the beat is limp and lifeless and dull, which makes me wonder why Lil Ju was so keen that we knew he made it that he put his tag on twice. Still, Megan’s clearly in her comfort zone, and while it’s a very profitable place for her to be at the moment and means there’s always a baseline listenability to her songs, I’d like to see what would happen if she pushed the boat out a little more.
[6]

Ian Mathers: Especially in video form, probably my favourite combo of justifiable chest-beating fire track and low-blow political catharsis since “Nobody Speak”.
[8]

Edward Okulicz: Maybe some of her tracks have gone harder or had better beats and production (though this one’s fine, don’t get me wrong). But “Thot Shit” has easily the highest ratio of killer lines that made me laugh, snort, smile or gasp to ones that didn’t. And those lines that didn’t aren’t bad, it’s just that sometimes that you need a minute or a line to regain your composure or catch your breath. This is completely imperious stuff in that it’s funny, superbly paced and deliciously smutty. All of Megan’s virtues are in perfect balance.
[9]

Friday, June 18th, 2021

Rauw Alejandro – Todo de Ti

Do we like everything about this kinda-disco jam?


[Video]
[6.14]

Alfred Soto: As crisp as a glass of spiked lemonade in June, “Todo de Ti” has more in common with jams released a decade ago than “Levitating.” The vocal hooks are ingratiating, and it stomps just loud enough to get abuelita tapping her foot.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: Not many songs bop so good-naturedly, so it does not matter that part of the melody makes me want to sing Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” over it. More nostalgic for cheap but cheerful 00s blogwave than anything that has been played in any actual disco in the last 45 years, it’s still fun.
[7]

Ian Mathers: The way the title line gets repeated in isolation a few times after the chorus almost like it’s sampled from earlier in the song rather than just sung, and it actually really works for me? I wish we went back to that a few more times. It’s an indelible enough hook if some dance track did use it for a refrain I think I’d go for that too.
[7]

Mark Sinker: A slip of a thing that never really arrives.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Alejandro lazily surfs the disco guitar wave with lyrics that purport to love all of you but really just love all of your individual parts, especially when decked out in the right brands, and nothing from the mall. I’m tired of these shopping list songs that reflect not only a lack of effort but a lack of interest in the person they’re singing to. Even without the laziness of the lyrics, the vocals feel phoned in, no match for the energy of the distinctive guitar. 
[3]

Thomas Inskeep: I’m not a fan of the Weeknd-ization of global pop, but in Alejandro’s hands it works better than usual, because he’s got personality that oozes through his vocals, and because “Todo de Ti” has a boogie component to it that keeps it from being just another ’80s synthy pastiche. This’ll sound awesome bumping out of car speakers on hot summer days.
[8]

Juana Giaimo: Maybe it’s because I haven’t listened to many songs from Latin American artists that followed the disco-trend of last year, but this track was such a nice surprise. Everything about this is smooth. Instead of a heavy drop, it relies on the funk-inspired bass and the steady beat, letting Rauw’s  voice do all the variation — going from rapping to singing, adding high-pitched AutoTuned vocals and even a vocoder effect towards the end. It’s a pity the lyrics are full of reggaeton clichés and some really weird metaphors (“Like keto diet, for you I control myself and stay still, even though I want to eat all of that”) that really don’t fit with the lightness of the song. 
[7]

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

Calvin Harris ft. Tom Grennan – By Your Side

Feels so close to acceptable, we guess.


[Video]
[4.12]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Amazingly, “By Your Side” finds a halfway point between the early 2010s rote EDM Calvin Harris and the late 2010s funk-influenced Calvin Harris. It’s massive without feeling pontificating, commercial without feeling too generic, and warm without feeling too cheesy — an innocuous summer bop I won’t be bothered to hear overplayed. 
[6]

Will Adams: I feel so… middle distant to you right now.
[5]

Samson Savill de Jong: I really struggle to listen to this all the way through. It’s so .. empty, there’s nothing to this. EDM is capable of conveying emotion, creating a feeling rather than telling a story. But if Calvin Harris ever could do that, he certainly hasn’t here. I feel like I hate this more than is truly warranted, because this is pretty much what you’d expect from a Calvin Harris song, but I find it so aggravatingly devoid of anything that I could latch on to and enjoy. The drop is shit as well, individual notes being played up and down a scale, so it doesn’t even sound fun or catchy. This is why we left the music of 2011 behind.
[0]

Jeffrey Brister: “We Found Love,” photocopied until the details have been nearly lost, giving only the barest impression of what the original might have looked like.
[1]

Oliver Maier: Crisp and perfectly saturated, but “By Your Side” would improve if the verses or bridge felt developed. As is, they’re not much more than serviceable, “Wake Me Up”-flavoured links between Harris’ delirious drops.
[7]

Alfred Soto: Far be it from me to despoil a review by preferring the guitars over the electronics on this theoretical dance track, but facts are facts. 
[4]

Scott Mildenhall: Does this track date back to 2014 or 2009? Either way, it is rote to an exceptional degree; as transparent as a Movementarian in full flight, and autopiloting its way to errors. Calvin Harris may not be new to an ill-suited vocal, but rarely has it been someone else’s. If you want sunshine and lollipops, why stock up on gravel? And if you’ve got gravel, why not cook up something sturdier? Co-writer John Newman would have made a better fist of this agreeable demo, but only after spending more time on it first.
[6]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Where’s Funk Wav Bounces, Vol. 2?
[4]

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

Lorde – Solar Power

This song, and this entry, are your yearly reminder that “Soak Up The Sun” by Sheryl Crow is a banger, and you shall not speak ill of it. This, we are less sure of.


[Video]
[6.06]

Alex Clifton: Naaaaaaaaaaaaa, naaaaaaa naaaaaaaaaaaa na-na-na-naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Na-na-na naaaaaaaaaaaaa! Hey, Lorde!
[5]

Jeffrey Brister: You can’t fool me, Lorde — I know this is just an “indie” version of “Soak Up the Sun.” And while I can appreciate its sophistication, restraint, and overall tastefulness, the act of listening leaves me unsatisfied. “Solar Power” is checking all the right boxes — laid-back tempo, an arrangement thick with acoustic guitars and shimmery backing vocals, the drums recorded with that perfect “summer” preset — but it’s not coming together. It’s all too safe, too afraid of embracing the goofiness of the summer.
[5]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: It’s difficult to keep track of all the pandemic walls that people have hit over the past year and a half, but it’s easy to pinpoint the worst one: the “very dark winter” in January/February when thousands of people were dying everyday, the cold felt like millions of tiny daggers dancing on your skin, and it was no longer reasonable to see anyone outside. (Starved for social interaction, at one point, I got a drink with a friend sitting around a bonfire outside a bar; it was cold her beer literally froze into a slushie.) Lorde knows this winter was rough and she’s enlisted her friends (Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, a particularly restrained Jack Antonoff) to generate something warm and glowing and beautiful to help you move on from it. “Come on and let the bliss begin,” she sings, at her most prophetic and prescient. “Solar Power” is the sound of the world learning how to open up again, the sound of sunshine on your skin before falling asleep at the beach, the sound of safety in numbers, the sound of youth reclaiming itself with beatific abandon. 
[8]

Katie Gill: Lorde’s trolling us, right? We think she loves the beach, she’s such a damn liar, or something like that. I mean, this song is basically HAIM does “Freedom ’90.” I know the first single off an album is usually the worst, but Lorde’s kind of the exception that proves the rule. I’m fine with letting Lorde be happy — if she’s having a good mood and a good time, then why shouldn’t she celebrate it in her music? But this feels surprisingly hokey and phoned in compared to some of her previous work. I mean, it’s a jam no matter what. But it’s a jam that confuses the shit out of me.
[7]

Leah Isobel: “Artisinal ‘Chasing the Sun’” was not on my Lorde Comeback bingo card, but I’m also… not mad about it?
[7]

Gaya Sundaram: “My cheeks in high colour, overripe peaches.” It’s not entirely clear that Lorde here is referring to the cheeks on her face rather than the ones from between which the sun supposedly shines (exhibit A: the album cover). It doesn’t really matter, though, when your ears are once again being caressed by the Kiwi’s take on the bananies/avocadies accent. The way she gives out those “ch”s, clenching her jaw just the right amount so that words like “features,” “p[ea]ctures” and “peaches” retain any lushness that her rasp hasn’t already taken away. Never mind that Winter has gripped the Southern Hemisphere, Ella is living her best Hot Cult Leader Summer life and I desperately hope this album lives up to the promise of genre-based storytelling that everyone is convinced she is aiming for. At the very least, I want to know what horrors she has in place for her culturally diverse yet uniformly skin-toned followers.
[6]

Alfred Soto: I suppose someone had to write the quietest summer song in pop history, and before hearing “Solar Power” I would’ve said Lorde could pull it off. The comparisons to “Freedom ’90” freaked me out, first because “Freedom ’90” is one of the most buoyant songs ever written; secondly because “Freedom ’90” has a hook, pulse, and buoyancy. “Solar Power” is so bland I couldn’t hear the resemblances: I hear a textural wash, like one of the filler tracks on the last Vampire Weekend album. It postures gleefully when I hear no audible glee (the self-harmonizing over the outro is unearned). 
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: Lorde hits the exact vibe of the upcoming northern hemisphere summer just in time for winter in Aotearoa/NZ. The palm-muted guitar strings, so often ill-used of late, work with Lorde’s whispery vocals to create a delectable tension that explodes into the repeated refrain that ends the song. It’s all bolstered by a playfully chorused bass and perfectly restrained drums. “Solar Power” has not left my mind since its release, and is truly a delight. 
[9]

John Pinto: Made my cells think they have walls and chloroplasts.
[7]

Dede Akolo: I for one, have decided that this summer I will do nothing besides be hot. The song’s “drop,” while lackluster, signifies a good separation of the two moods within the song. The cheekiness of the beginning entertains me to no end; I’d like to think that Jesus would be a handsome dude. The second half, jam band, is very beige to be quite honest. The best critique I heard about the song however came from my friend who said that this song “is only suitable in the summer and therefore is useless to me for the rest of the year.” Note that this friend epitomizes this tweet
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A work so flavorless that it’s compelled me to draft an eight part essay on the limitations of the Antonoffian approach to pop. The melody here is fun enough, the lyrics clever in the same rough-drafty way that Melodrama did better, but there’s nothing at the center of “Solar Power,” a pop song lacuna that makes me more perplexed every time I listen to it. I started this review off at [6] and every time I come back to it I drop the score another point. Let’s stop here.
[4]

Rose Stuart: I finally came around to Lorde with “Green Light,” enough so that I was excited for her new record. And it’s a fine, albeit bland, song. A fine, bland, Jack Antonoff song. I’ve heard plenty of complaints that Antonoff turns all the singers he works with into one uniform sound, but I didn’t believe it until I heard Lorde sounding indistinguishable from Lana Del Rey. Nay, this is Lana Del Rey. It must be. The word salad lyrics (just with “boy” replacing “baby”), the light, breathy voice, the religious references — oh god, did she just do Lana’s talk-rap? Lorde, sweetie, what did they do to you? 
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Bleh. I could blame Jack Antonoff for doing whatever it is wrong that he does — for someone whose signature sound is supposedly ruining pop music, no one has convincingly defined what it is, and the best attempts are so broad they could describe three separate people. I could blame the Jason Mrazziness of this, or its suffocating smugness, or the even more suffocating smugness of the people who hate it, or the press release (“There’s someone I want you to meet. Her feet are bare at all times. She’s sexy, playful, feral, and free.”) that sounds like girlboss ad copy for an $15 spiked seltzer. (I have no thoughts or blame about the album cover.) But really, all of this is my scrambling to find some other justification for simple, subjective reality: this song just isn’t for me.
[4]

Oliver Maier: I think Lorde’s songs have worked best, historically, when they’ve been pleas for transcendence: the giddy throb of “Ribs” or her voice writhing against the beat on “Perfect Places,” songs for the feeling of watching cigarette smoke disappear from the balcony of a flat you’ll never find yourself at again, wishing you could follow it up into the night sky. So here’s “Solar Power”, where she’s finally in her perfect place, and it turns out that that is not a very exciting place to be. The first two minutes are coy and cute, maybe a little annoying, laced with flirty psych gestures and breezy jokes but not really justifying their stay. The outro is refreshingly full-bodied — think “Watermelon Sugar” by way of Primal Scream — but also far too little too late, a coda that should have been a chorus. It’s not that I think Lorde should have to be wracked with teenage discontent to make worthwhile music; good vibes are always needed, and besides there’s doubtless plenty of gloom yet to come from her. Still, whether by design or not “Solar Power” is musically half-full and lyrically tepid. Either it’s woefully basic satire or it’s earnest background music, and I’m not that compelled either way.
[4]

Vikram Joseph: Well, this took a bit of getting used to. There’s always been a sense of humour and playfulness in Lorde’s music, no matter how emotionally eviscerating her songs could be, but on “Solar Power” it’s front and centre, and she sounds at peace with the world in a way that’s so unexpected as to be slightly alarming: has she been kidnapped? Is this a coded plea for rescue? Perhaps the pandemic has prompted a reset of sorts. Everyone’s had their thoughts on the myriad songs that “Solar Power” sounds like; for me, “Faith”, “Wishing I Was There”, Sheryl Crow, TLC and Robbie Williams (and not just in “Can I kick it?”) all drift to the surface. It’s a little bit lightweight, but it’s fun and she fully inhabits it, ad-libs and all; now that I’ve had a few days to come round to the idea of Lorde being anything other than 19 and on fire, it doesn’t seem such a bad thing.
[7]

Nortey Dowuona: Lorde’s at her I Am moment!?? WHAT IS HAPPENING!??!
[9]

Thursday, June 17th, 2021

TINI x Maria Becerra – Miénteme

A team-up we’re a little lukewarm on…


[Video]
[4.17]

Juana Giaimo: Lately I feel that artists are putting the least amount of effort into their reggaeton songs: a fast beat, some autotune, repeating the pre-chorus twice, reggae piano chords, the expected lyrics about romantic encounters, and of course, saying their own names out loud at the end of the track. A few years ago, it seemed reggaeton was going to revolutionize the whole world. Now, most times it sounds plain and too comfortable — maybe because the amount of views shows that they have nothing to worry about.
[4]

Alfred Soto: Although “Don’t Turn Around” peeks around the corner and says hi, “Miénteme” has more generic scores to settle: reggaeton as spotless as a glass table awaiting coke. 
[3]

Tim de Reuse: I’d expect that a tune with this melancholy of a concept would have something melancholy in its execution to match, but its squeaky-clean instrumental doesn’t have much of a personality at all, other than the strangest snare drum I’ve ever heard in Latin American pop: a low smack on the side of a trash can, excruciatingly stereo-wide, simultaneously too dry and distractingly breathy. It has been five minutes since the last time I listened to the song, and it is the only thing I remember about it with any fidelity.
[3]

Leah Isobel: The slowed-down chorus up front that leads into the real one is a great trick, and foreshadows the rest of the song: it builds momentum through slight shifts within repetition. By the time it gets to the final verse, the stuttered “que no im-, que no im-, que no importa” feels like explosive payoff. This is more down to the song’s structure than its singers, who come off a little anonymous.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: So usually I do my little impressionist schtick, but this is just so boring I cannot bring myself to do it. TINI has a sweet voice though.
[5]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: The melody is so repetitive and the instrumental so sparse that I found less than three minutes feeling like five. There’s clearly some charisma there, but it would’ve been served more by better music. 
[4]

Wednesday, June 16th, 2021

Shirin David – Ich darf das

Wikipedia: She likes shopping and she is a showboat. Daisy Duck is popular among women though she has made relatively few appearances in media compared to Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.


[Video]
[4.67]

Mark Sinker: A decade and a half ago, round the time the too-wised-up were trying to argue that in gangsta-bling message and also in form, hiphop had irrecoverably become the universal go-to vector for capitalism triumphant, one key proof of concept was apparently that its rhythms and techniques were just, well, everywhere. But the problem with “everywhere” as a QED was that this included regions whose easy-read symbolic status at a distance too often erased the facts of local cultural-political disputes (a couple of manifestations at the time being Iranian and Polish rap — what did they “mean”? Only a fool would want to generalise: no dumb guessing till you speak Farsi or Polish or better still both…). On one hand this tendency is clearly today exacerbated: like reggae before it, the rhythms of rap present themselves as the global lingua franca, the dimming dream of the one-love utopia delivered via a proto-tongue everywhere (“everywhere”) turned gutterally anti-respectable and cosplay refusenik. And these are archetypes that power will exploit. On the other, the proto-tongue is just so cheekily and blatantly trashy now sometimes (as here: break-out blonde YouTube minx leans into every cliche that jumps a language barrier) that something else is probably at work. Yes: transgressive identity-embrace and problematic horny self-permission (“Ich Dar Das“), yes handwavy, unasked-for and potentially intrusive allyship; but also yes absolutely unapologetic low-bar pulp silliness, forever the aqua regia of pop. Only a fool would want to overthink this…
[5]

Natasha Genet Avery: With its chanted, sassy chorus and an infectious, minimalistic beat, “Ich darf das” is a solid entry in the Bad Bitches Getting Ready to Rage songbook. Most of this score is for “Ass out, Daisy Duck,” which is a line (and caption) for the ages. 
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: Don’t think you can slip an insipid “I’m sexy and a woman isn’t that radical” song by me just because it’s (mostly) in German — aside, remember when these songs were actually shocking and anthemic and provocative?
[2]

Katherine St Asaph: I’m still adjusting to the fact that it isn’t March 2020 anymore. I’m not ready for it to be 2015 with Iggy Azalea on the charts (and for those charts to be in Germany).
[4]

Austin Nguyen: It’s nice to know that other countries have their “Lip Gloss,” even if it only lasts for a few choruses, the bleacher stomps reduced to lightweight hops, the braggadocio thinned out to a single fallen strand from a cheerleader’s pom pom. Or, perhaps more aptly, a lone tail feather shed from Daisy Duck — which seems ridiculous at first glance, but does Shirin David not have a point? Is Daisy Duck not the Disney Dumptruck Blueprint? +1 for (possibly) enlightening the public.
[4]

Juana Giaimo: I really like Shirin David’s whispery but still fierce flow, but I wish the track was also at her same level. 
[6]

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Mimi Webb – Good Without

We have some notes about the vowels, Mimi…


[Video]
[4.56]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A vocally talented, pleasantly floral, sonically-of-the-moment offering from an emergent Tik Tok star that slots anonymously into the current teenage melodrama renaissance. 
[6]

Dorian Sinclair: To some extent I can’t help but compare “Good Without” to Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good 4 U“. Beyond the titular similarity, both narrators are in a similar position, still caught up in a former relationship when the other person shows every sign of having moved on. In that comparison, “Good Without” suffers a bit; its melancholy may match my own experiences better than Rodrigo’s fire, but it’s less dynamic, and the lyrics look vague next to Rodrigo’s pointed specificity. It’s not bad — the melody is decent and I particularly like the slow build of the piano — just a bit generic, especially its chorus.
[5]

Jeffrey Brister: Feels like I’ve always already heard this song, given how pervasive every element of its construction is: the affected coo, airy and booming arrangement, the whoa-oh’s. Nothing novel, nothing new, no value-add to make this particular instance stand out. I’ll get it confused with another song playing over an uplifting trailer or the closing moments of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, I’m certain.
[3]

Ian Mathers: Can someone please tell me where this particular vocal timbre that’s everywhere now originated? It does feel British, is it Adele? Ellie Goulding? A mix of the two? If I am hearing some Adele, at least she makes it sound a lot better. (This is probably the recent nadir of the form, at least for me.) Anyway, it’s everywhere right now and I hate it, and here the remix is much better both for giving it a bit of pace and also by swallowing the worst excesses of the style.
[3]

Alfred Soto: Posting an opinion on “Good Without” means reckoning with the stew of influences in which it bobs. I don’t doubt Mimi Webb’s sincerity, but from the swell of backup vocals to the starchy insistence of her own performance there’s a cynicism to the way it refuses to offer a moment of originality. 
[3]

Katie Gill: This might sound absolutely crazy…but Mimi Webb (or Mimi Webb’s songwriters) really should do country music instead. I know that this is supposed to be a big, impressive emotional pop song but honestly, swap out those guitars for something a little more acoustic and we’ve got something aggressively Kelsea Ballerini on our hands. Likewise, if you took a country spin on this song, it would make it more interesting and make a statement in the woefully barren field of women-focused country music. But as it is, the song feels oddly half-formed, like it’s waiting for a remix that will hopefully blast it right up to radio airplay.
[5]

Edward Okulicz: Comes across like Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” if the singer didn’t believe it for one second, which makes for a less catchy song but a more interesting story. The swelling backing vocals are kind of hacky, but taken in context of a singer struggling to convince the listener of something unbelievable, they work really well. I do fear for the ongoing health of English vowels though; to add to the ongoing trend of people singing the long-i vowel sound (like “bike”) as if it was “oy,” Webb sings the “a” in “heart attack” like an long i sound. I fully expect if she’s still performing this song in ten years, someone’s going to have a heart attoyck, probably me.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The plucked guitars lift behind Mimi’s soft, pliant voice as plopping piano drops cycle around her feet. Then the KanYeezy bass barges in with the Puff the Radio Dragon drums hammering down as Mimi’s echoes roar. Mimi makes her way as the pistachio shell drums bubble inside the piano drops, looking around, then leaping away, lifted by her roaring echoes, with Mimi soaring into the piano drops and disappearing.
[7]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is so aggressively dull. Because Mimi Webb is a young women writing about heartbreak there’s an easy comparison to be drawn with Olivia Rodrigo, but instead I’d like to contrast Mimi with Adele. That might not seem fair, given that Adele is a far better singer and is attempting to make more complex music, but Adele succeeds at something that Mimi fails at. Namely, Adele is able to take her personal issues and make them sound big and universal. “Good Without” is attempting to do a similar thing, trying to make Mimi Webb’s heartbreak sound big and important, but it falls flat. In part it’s because Mimi just isn’t a strong enough singer to put the required emotion into her voice (and I hate the vocal effect they use every time she sings “last” in the chorus with a burning passion). It’s also because the song is so generic, and so predictable, that it’s impossible to feel like there’s any emotion to it. So instead of empathising, I’m just utterly bored.
[3]

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Billie Eilish – Lost Cause

Faltering as we reach single number four in the new-album cycle…


[Video]
[4.55]

Harlan Talib Ockey: Now, I only have one earbud in, right? Once I grab the other one, I’ll hear something other than withered bass-subservient production, limp vocals, and… oh no.
[4]

Austin Nguyen: A decent SoundCloud demo that attempts not-so-decently to upcycle parts of Billie Eilish’s actual SoundCloud-era output: “My Boy” eye-rolled bitterness without the arch wryness, “Idontwannabeyouanymore” dead space filled with scats, “Ocean Eyes” mellowness laid back to a fault with pockets of whisper-rushed reverb. How any of this should amount to some “7/11”-adjacent music video escapes me — the bass shudders like it’s in a library, not an LA-mansion party, and when the synths come in trying to compensate, it’s too late. If the intention were understated confidence, the delivery comes off as mere crepitation: all noise, as if “You Should See Me in a Crown” were centered around a cicada.
[5]

Dorian Sinclair: You know when karaoke tracks bill themselves as being “[song] by [band you’ve never heard of] in the style of [the actual artist you know]”? Generally, this heralds that you’re going to get some very thin and dodgy production that just sort of loosely approximates what the original song sounded like. For those karaoke tracks, I assume it’s about resources, and the company not being able to afford rights to the original mix stems. Since this is presumably not a problem for Finneas and Billie Eilish, I have no explanation for why “Lost Cause” sounds as empty as it does. Eilish’s lassitude doesn’t help — normally she rides the line of “disaffected but engaging” well, but here she just sounds bored with the track.
[3]

Will Adams: It’s hard to believe the same team who sampled crosswalk tickers, dentist drills and ASMR Invisalign (on top of already blustery beats with glitched-out vocals) would turn in something so pared down, to the point where it sounds like a demo. The coffeeshop vibe suits Billie better than expected, but the close-up draws more attention to the lyrics, for better and for worse: “you got no job,” on top of not making sense as a converse to “you think you’re such an outlaw,” feels especially callous given the pandemic making that the case for millions.
[4]

John S. Quinn-Puerta: I dig Finneas’s work on the bass, and Eilish’s vocal melody is instantly memorable, made to sing along and bob your head. But the lyrics don’t really stand up to scrutiny, particularly the central declaration: “you got not job.” It feels like an unneeded and unearned punchline, ill-matched with the interpersonal complaints the rest of the song focuses on. 
[5]

Edward Okulicz: The ultra-minimalism of this bass-led kiss-off doesn’t suit Eilish that well. It would have suited someone tougher, or a bit jazzier and smokier. But I was still kind of getting into it, and then where the sublime payoff was supposed to come — from the master of such things, a woman who managed to weaponise “duh” into a world-destroyer — all that was there was “But you got no job.” That’s not it.
[4]

Katherine St Asaph: Billie Eilish, after making several trip hop-adjacent songs, finally loses the “adjacent” entirely: beat from Mandalay’s “Insensible,” vocal timbre and attitude from Martina Topley-Bird. The genre allows Billie and Finneas to get away with more minimalism than they otherwise might, or that was accurate to the ’90s really. The chorus makes me bristle — using “you got no job” as a zing right after the worst mass unemployment since the Great Depression seems unnecessarily cruel, as does calling someone a lost cause at the irredeemably old age of, what, 22? (And I thought I was a harsh critic.) Then again, nobody ever asked or expected a Billie Eilish song to be nice.
[5]

Aaron Bergstrom: Comes off like an OpenAI rendering of a “Billie Eilish type” song, specifically one where the computer was only given the most basic details of what her music sounds like (“it’s really sparse and she insults people”) and then was left on its own to figure out the rest. So instead of the ominous minimalism and devastating punchlines that made When We All Fall Asleep such a fascinating album, we get beige coffeehouse vibes and half-hearted digs about being unemployed.
[3]

Andrew Karpan: What would a Billie-style song of the summer sound like? It’s a boring question, for sure, but it’s one that she manages to answer cleverly, her voice splashing around the room like errant waves on a beach day. In the context of a sunny day, her aloof disinterest bit, a performance of studied pouting rooted in camp, ultimately becomes impossible to resist.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The soft petal drums waft behind Billie’s even softer voice, as the bass pops in, light synths on the walls. She gathers the echoes around her, carefully dressing and styling each, and lays down a sweeping synth cord line network, the echoes following each off and away, with Billie sitting and watching it all.
[6]

Alfred Soto: Here’s the second new single I’ve reviewed in as many days by a generational icon who confuses slow for cool. The ooh-ooh-oohs and the loping beat help, and her hip-hop diction’s crisper. No lost cause, but the road map’s smudged. 
[5]

Tuesday, June 15th, 2021

Agnes – 24 Hours

We have finally released her, released her body, from the purgatory of not being covered on TSJ.


[Video]
[7.73]

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: Sultry, sweaty, aerobic disco embellished with every little Euro-bosh flourish you could wish for. “24 hours never seemed so far away/Feels like a lifetime ago,” Agnes sings, seemingly referencing the fact that the last time we covered her was over a decade ago
[7]

William John: God, if only Lady Gaga had stumbled across something like this on her journey to Planet Chromatica.
[10]

Edward Okulicz: It must be the mid-to-late noughties again, because here’s another song that bites “Fade to Grey” while also being better than “Fade to Grey.” It also brings to mind lovely memories of Rachel Stevens’ “So Good,” only nobody’s going to accuse Agnes of being a slightly weak singer. Her performance, as if hiding in the corner of her vocal booth, is a nervous powerhouse. That spoken word bit is bizarre in a wonderful way too, though isn’t it a “Sliding Doors moment” not a “sliding door moment”?
[8]

Juana Giaimo: The song already starts so upbeat that when the chorus arrives, it falls flat. In the pre-chorus, she adds an extra beat and disco backing vocals echoing her already strong voice, all of which create expectation, but when the chorus arrives, her voice turns thinner and the melody slower. Sure, it’s good, but not the dance explosion I was expecting. 
[6]

Samson Savill de Jong: This is pretty much the perfect form of this type of song. Pumping bass, glissando-ing keys, strong singing, lyrics that’re pretty obviously written by a Swede in their second language, soaring violins, spacey distant vocals at the start, a weird spoken bridge that doesn’t really work but makes it feel “arty.” “24 Hours” doesn’t play with the tropes, it just executes them to perfection.
[8]

Dorian Sinclair: There’s a real imperiousness to Agnes’s vocal on the verse of “24 Hours” — she has a commanding presence as she lays out the stark facts of heartbreak and what comes after. It contrasts well with the airy vulnerability of her head voice on the chorus, particularly immediately post-bridge when it’s just her and the piano. The ways she shifts her register are super thoughtful, and the production post-bridge is near perfect. I just wish the pre-bridge underscoring was a little more responsive to the ways in which she uses her voice.
[7]

Katherine St Asaph: Evokes Goldfrapp (Supernature specifically), Ladytron, Robyn, “Rapture”-era Blondie briefly, and other strobe-dance luminaries, but sounds flat, emotionally detached. Maybe we should have heard the story in the moment, rather than with 24 hours’ distance.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The spin kicking drums knock down the door, the stalking bass and wheeling synths follow Agnes’s smooth croon as she spreads her echoes through the building, then begins to climb the stairs, the bass synths and drums clearing her opponents as Agnes continues to climb, unencumbered and getting ready to place down the satellite. As they reach the last stairs, Agnes floats over her echoes on the steps of the sweetly plucked piano, then lands on the top, placing the satellite on the roof, broadcasting… we are still here.
[10]

Will Adams: “24 Hours” draws inspiration from several space-electro hallmarks — the breathy interlude that opens the song from Donna Summer; the nod to Eurythmics in the first verse — but I mostly hear Goldfrapp in its DNA. It’s that steely angle on an otherwise standard breakup anthem that adds intrigue, as well as a narrative purpose: only in the post-chorus midway through does the pain peek through — “that was the last time I’ll ever be yours.” But it’s a brief flash, and Agnes remains determined to move forward, blasting off into space, propelled by synths and kick drums.
[8]

Scott Mildenhall: In the armour of electro revival revivalism, Agnes heads forth, fights, and steals a Gaga line so brazenly as to be surreptitious. This has gusto on all fronts — crunching, throbbing, punching, mobbing — and barely needs 24 seconds to assert that something big is happening.
[8]

Aaron Bergstrom: This is pretty much a shot-for-shot remake of last year’s mildly disappointing “Fingers Crossed,” but it’s hard to be too upset when “24 Hours” improves on the formula in almost every way: bigger, darker, faster, less likely to be mistaken for an unreleased Future Nostalgia outtake.
[7]

Monday, June 14th, 2021

Foxing – Go Down Together

n.b. not Fox, Foxes, Fleet Foxes, Foxygen, Peter Fox, Zack Fox, Jamie Foxx, Ray Foxx, Njena Reddd Foxxx, Bullet & Snowfox, or Ylvis


[Video]
[5.80]

Aaron Bergstrom: Over a decade-long career, Foxing has built a reputation for sprawling, widescreen emo-tinged indie rock, culminating with 2017’s Nearer My God, an instant classic of the genre. When the band announced that the lead single (sorry, ritual) for their fourth album would be a seven-minute collaboration with Why? called “Speak With The Dead,” it was (a) awesome, and (b) completely on brand. “Go Down Together,” though, is something else entirely. It’s an attempt to channel all of that ambition, anxiety, and dread into a three minute pop song and, as the band has described it as a meditation on “financial ruin, hopelessness and love,” maybe it makes sense that they would seek inspiration in the global-financial-crash-core indie pop of 2008 and 2009 (Manners, for sure, but also In Ghost Colors, Oracular Spectacular, and even Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) for their reimagining of “21′ Bonnie & Clyde.”
[8]

Oliver Maier: Foxing’s curious career trajectory has taken them from twinkly Midwest emo to anthems that sound designed for empty arenas. This could unkindly be called selling out (if it were like, the ’90s) but between 2018’s Nearer My God and their present batch of singles, the approach has been hit and miss. Part of me finds the folksy skip of “Go Down Together” off-putting, like a tidied-up Of Monsters and Men cut, but I’m not bouncing off it entirely. It might be that this sounds more meticulous than a lot of songs in its vein tend to — if nothing else, it’s better produced and arranged — or it might just be that Conor Murphy, as ever, sounds like he truly means every word.
[6]

Alfred Soto: The ghosts of Modest Mouse and Clink haunt this slow, sad stomper: the working out of trauma with the aid of a romantic partner whose presence may itself worsen the trauma. “It’s not enough that you’re wrestling with yourself/But your friends talk shit while you’re going through hell,” Conor Murphy sings in an electronically manipulated warble. Instead of building to one of their inexorable climaxes, “Go Down Together” stops at just over three minutes as if it saw no hope of continuing.  
[7]

Austin Nguyen: I actually didn’t mind the timbre of “Dance Monkey” that much, but Conor Murphy’s closed-eye moan-melisma (especially that second “we’ll go down there togetherrrrrrrr”) makes my ears feel voyeuristic, as if I were hearing him masturbate his voice over the opening riff of “Break The Rules” at half-speed to get aroused for the Actual Performance. The electronic squeals and other guitars can’t come in soon enough.
[3]

Samson Savill de Jong: When I think about this song, I like it a lot. I like the arrangement, I like the singer’s voice, I like the little electronic touches that peek through occasionally. The lyrics, especially, I think are outstanding, dealing with weighty topics without getting bogged down by them. But then I listen and I just don’t feel moved in the way all of the above would imply. I still recognise its quality intellectually, but I don’t feel compelled to tap my foot or sing along with the chorus.
[6]

Tim de Reuse: Dripping with sincerity, crisp vocal chops, plucked banjo, a whole lot of inspirational layering — and to what end? A vague, waffling positivity. It’s not that I’m opposed to anything feel-good, but when I’m feeling down, “We’ll go down together” is not really the most revitalizing message, and the intensity of these upbeat melodies have completely sterilized the song of any other kind of nuance. There is no meat on these bones.
[4]

Ian Mathers: Every generation gets the “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” they need.
[7]

Edward Okulicz: The verses on this show a great deal of care, painting a story of pledging one’s troth to someone in times of hardship, and you can’t be too down about that. But the chorus feels like an underwritten formality, lacking the evocative lyrics, not making the repetition work, being a little boring, and sounding like an unearned resolution. That’s not the worst crime, and it’s not the worst song. It’s just that it’s all very nice, but it’s also too nice.
[6]

Nortey Dowuona: The loping bass that opens up to flat drums — covered by Conor Murphy’s rasping voice, dusted by brittle, fluorescent synths and cartwheeling guitars in the distance — is so powerful it might distract you from the rote writing. Might.
[6]

Katherine St Asaph: Like an “indie rockers deciding to write a pop song, you know, as an experiment, a lark, just this once” starter pack: the polite synth percussion, the electronic antenna-twiddling, the frosted-glass processing on Conor’s voice. The result is something I’d convince myself is quite pleasant come December, as a space-filler in year-end lists.
[5]